Annie Blanks, Pensacola News Journal
Published 5:50 p.m. CT Oct. 3, 2020 | Updated 8:52 a.m. CT Oct. 4, 2020

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This story has been updated to correct the address of the mobile registration center at Pensacola State College’s South Santa Rosa Center.

The day after an individual assistance declaration was made for five Florida Panhandle counties affected by Hurricane Sally, emergency management officials outlined how residents can apply for the aid and announced that local intake centers had opened to help with navigating the process.

Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley, along with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Department of Emergency Management, said the ball was already rolling to get residents started on the application process to help them financially recover from the Category 2 storm.

“With the individual assistance declaration, families impacted by Hurricane Sally now have access to critical FEMA programs, including housing assistance, crisis counseling, disaster unemployment assistance, small business administration assistance, disaster legal services and case management,” FDEM State Coordinating Officer Allison McCreary said at a press conference Saturday afternoon in Pensacola.

Walk-in help: FEMA opens mobile registration centers in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties

FEMA finally declared individual assistance help for Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton and Bay counties on Friday, after more than two weeks of pleas from local residents and officials who were desperate for help from the federal government to begin recovering from the storm. 

Hurricane Sally walloped the Florida Panhandle on Sept. 16, causing in excess of $309 million in damage in Escambia County and nearly $40 million in Santa Rosa. Much of the damage was from fallen trees and flooding issues.  

President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration in Florida on Sept. 23, but the declaration was only for public assistance, which is essentially money for local governments. In Alabama, Escambia, Baldwin and Mobile counties received a major disaster declaration with both public and individual assistance Sept. 20, just four days after the storm.

FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Jeff Coleman said Saturday that he couldn’t say why it took longer for the Florida counties to get an individual assistance declaration than it did for counties in Alabama, but that FEMA and FDEM both were waiting in Panama City for official approval.

Jeff Coleman, FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer, speaks during a press conference Saturday afternoon at the Escambia County Operations center. (Photo: Laura Coale/Escambia County)

“In working with the counties and with FDEM, our partners, we did lean forward and we did some great, outstanding planning to make sure we were ready,” Coleman said. “I can tell you that the minute the IA declaration was announced, I made a phone call to FDEM and I also made a phone call to all of my players here at FEMA, because we had all of our teams staged in Panama City. Probably by noon that day (Friday), we had the mobile registration intake centers up and running. It was fast, we were here, we were ready. We were just waiting on the word.”

On Saturday, FEMA opened five mobile intake centers in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties where homeowners and renters who had uninsured losses due to Sally can go in-person to meet with a FEMA representative and start the application process to receive individual aid. The mobile intake centers are located at:

Escambia County

  • Southwest Branch Library, 12248 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola
  • Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. DeSoto St., Pensacola
  • Escambia County Extension Service, 3740 Stefani Road, Cantonment

Santa Rosa County

  • Pensacola State College South Santa Rosa Center, 5075 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze

Okaloosa County

  • Emerald Coast Healthcare Coalition, 755 Lovejoy Road, Fort Walton Beach

The centers are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until further notice, and masks and social distancing are required at each center. 

It is not necessary to visit a center to register with FEMA. Those with uninsured losses can also apply by:

Coleman said from the day someone begins the application process, it can take up to 20 days to receive a judgement on the amount that a person can expect to be awarded in FEMA aid.

“It’s up to 20 days, and it could be before that 20 days, it all depends on the situation and the amount of information that’s going to be required from them,” he said.

The following information is necessary when you register:

  • Address of the damaged dwelling where the damage occurred (pre-disaster address)
  • Current mailing address
  • Current telephone number
  • Insurance information
  • Total household annual income
  • Routing and account number for checking or savings account (this allows FEMA to directly transfer disaster assistance funds into a bank account)
  • A description of disaster-caused damage and losses

Gilley said Escambia County is still in the process of removing debris from the sides of the roads. The county has removed about 600,000 cubic yards of the 2.5 million total cubic yards produced by the storm. 

Gilley also said that while FEMA is in town — along with several volunteer and faith-based groups from across the nation to help the area recover — residents should still help each other with the massive amount of physical recovery that will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

“We’ve had a lot of groups that have come into our community, we’re going on the third week. They have been very, very dedicated and they’ve taken thousands of requests for assistance,” Gilley said. “If you are able to volunteer if you are able to help your neighbors or those from your church or other organizations, please do that.”

Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632. 

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